Jurors Required To Sign Promises Not To Google Details Of Case

from the modern-technology,-meet-the-courts dept

There have been plenty of stories concerning judges warning jurors not to research any additional items about a case online, but JJ points us to what is apparently a first (at least in California). A judge has ordered the jury to sign a document that they will not use the internet to research the case, and they can face perjury charges if they’re caught doing so. Apparently, the reasoning is that most jurors tend to ignore the spoken warning. My guess is that many will ignore the signed promise as well — in fact, as some behavioral research has shown, just telling them not to do it, may make them even more likely to do so. At some point, the courts are going to have to realize that you simply can’t prevent people from looking up more info, and will have to come up with ways to adapt.

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Comments on “Jurors Required To Sign Promises Not To Google Details Of Case”

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Bradley Stewart (profile) says:


This is something that I have thought about. I can see both advantages and disadvantages to both being in the bubble of the trial and also being able to research the case while on the jury. I’m not sure which is the fairest policy. I lean toward the more information one has the more likely one is to decide correctly but this is not a given. How about an instant replay? Each juror gets a given number of look ups per day.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Hmm?

What if you google information that is technically relevant to the case but not specific to the case. For example if a lawyer quotes some “fact” – say – in a motoring case- the stopping distance of a particular model of car at 50mph – am I allowed to use the net to check if that is correct?

If so how do you draw a sharp distinction between that kind of information and the kind you might not be allowed (eg defendant’s previous convictions etc) ?

Alimas (profile) says:

Re: Re: Hmm?

No, you shouldn’t be allowed to check the net if that is correct. That’s the oppositions job to find a professional to verify/disprove that.

It is not the point of the jury to play police investigator, it is their role to make a judgment on the presented evidence only.

This prevents all kinds of problems, such as jurors being swayed by baseless rumors among the public, by evidence the public knows about that won’t make it into court because it was, for example, illegally obtained, etc., etc..

Furthermore, I think its really naive for anyone to assume these jurors would be going to the net and always finding clearly credible evidence/facts they could use in their decision.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Hmm?

No, you shouldn’t be allowed to check the net if that is correct. That’s the oppositions job to find a professional to verify/disprove that.

So what happens if the defence and prosecution experts flatly disagree on such a point. How is the juror supposed to decide? As things stand such decisions are in practice made on the basis of the personal persuasiveness and “authority” of the witnesses and lawyers (in other words their acting skills). Surely it is better to check the facts somewhere else.

Although much of the net is full of “rumour and hearsay” (to quote another commenter) on political/cultural matters, on technical issues it is in my experience accurate.

Look at this another way.

If, just before the case, a juror had looked up some facts on the net about a matter that proved to be relevant is he/she supposed to ignore them. If so then exactly how far back does this go? Should all juries be composed entirely of newborn infants to avoid “bias”.

NullOp says:


More “facts” from the internet would certainly NOT be a good thing in a trial. The net is almost nothing but opinion, hearsay and straight lies. A case is to be tried on evidence presented in court only. The legal system would be well advised to order jurors ISP’s monitor jurors activities while they are on a case.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re: Google

Um, that is not what he said. He said that they should monitor on-duty jurors. Quit setting up strawmen.

Second, it makes sense to monitor jurors in highly sensitive trials. Heck, they sequester juries for really big deal trials, and they monitor everything those jurors do. This would be the same thing on a smaller scale.

If we’re talking about small civil trials, misdemeanors, etc, then there’s probably no need to monitor. For major crimes, it is more important. There is a reason that some evidence is disallowed, and it is not a juror’s place to circumvent that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Google

The quote is:
“The legal system would be well advised to order jurors ISP’s monitor jurors activities while they are on a case”

Is a juror ‘on-duty’ when the court day is over and they go home for the night or the weekend? There is no ‘strawman’ here, it really seems lame to monitor every juror just because they are on a jury. If its important then we have ways to deal with it, like you mentioned, sequestering the jury. Even if they monitor my home ISP and my mobile ISP, I can still get net access that is not monitored. Monitoring jurors online actions does not make sense, it adds a level of complexity that the courts do not need. I’m not saying that jurors should have the freedom to do whatever they want, I’m saying that the government does not need to monitor the online activities of jurors.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Google

> Even if they monitor my home ISP and my
> mobile ISP, I can still get net access that
> is not monitored.

Not to mention, it would violate the rights of other people who are *not* on the jury to monitoring. We share one ISP in our household. I may be on a jury but my wife isn’t. Neither are my kids or my friends who occasionally use my computer when they happen to be over at my house.

Even if you accept that jurors should give up their constitutional right to be free from government surveillance, one’s spouse and family members aren’t jurors and shouldn’t be subject to having their communications monitored, nor does it mean that they can’t research the case on the internet if they wants to.

Alan Gerow (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Google

What about my fiance who isn’t on the jury but shares my ISP connection. Should her usage be monitored, too? If she does look up information on the case, but doesn’t tell me anything that she read, should I be punished because I COULD have been looking up information or she COULD have told me about what she found? What about all the WiFi access points that I pass by on a daily basis that my iPhone can connect to … should every public WiFi access point be monitored?

What if I go home and don’t look up anything related to the case, but want to unwind watching lots of bukake videos, should the government be allowed to know that about me simply because it’s forcing me to participate in its judicial process? Does being a juror mean I’m less trustworthy than the criminal that I’m being trusted to judge?

It’s not a strawman, because you’re presuming me to be guilty of breaking my agreement without evidence. You presume I’m going to look up information on the case and need to be monitored without any proof that I had any intention on doing so. The government has no need to monitor what I do on my time, and pro-actively doing so would presume me guilty without due process.

And yet, you trust the juror enough to decide the fate of another person.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Google

> The legal system would be well advised to
> order jurors ISP’s monitor jurors activities
> while they are on a case.

Why not just intercept their phone calls, too? Gotta make sure they’re not talking to anyone about the case, right?

A judge has no legal authority to do such a thing. Being selected for jury duty does not remove the constitutional and statutory protections we all enjoy as citizens, nor doe sit make one legally subject to government surveillance and monitoring of private communications.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

I don’t think you guys understand how courts and appellate processes work. The purpose of the signed promise is not to really stop people from searching on the net. It’s to set up presumption based upon the signed promise.

Here’s how it works. The judge doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether the jury searches the net on the criminal trial he’s presiding over. But he does not want the defendant to file an appeal later saying that he (the defendant) did not receive a fair trial because the jury was searching on the net.

The appellate court would look at the signed promises with the presumption that no such searching took place. To overcome that presumption the defendant would have to come up with hard evidence that members of the jury violated the promise, that they were prejudiced by what they found, and that the outcome of the trial would have been different if it had not occurred.

In other words, any conviction of the defendant is less likely to be overturned on appeal with these written promises.

Where you guys see pointless and wasteful procedure. Lawyers see a check-mate.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Oh yeah, merely because I use a single game metaphor, the entire legal profession is now a sporting event.

What I described was lawyers making the trial less ambiguous and making the entire system more efficient.

Appellate attorneys love ambiguity. They love being able to pick at small errors which may have occurred at the trial court. Appellate attorneys would much rather have an ambiguous record so they can poke holes in it later. “Did the jury really know they were not supposed to search the net about the case, we don’t know.” Such ambiguities increase the costs of litigation and keeps judgments and verdicts from being finalized.

I cannot understand why you think making a clear and unambiguous record is somehow a bad thing. Wait, are you an appellate attorney?

Beta says:

Ignorance is strength?

@NullOp: ‘More “facts” from the internet would certainly NOT be a good thing in a trial. The net is almost nothing but opinion, hearsay and straight lies.’

As opposed to what they’re told by the lawyers in court? How about a library, would it be all right with you if the jury retired to a library to do research on the case? If they promised to read only books, no periodicals? Only hard-bound books, no paperbacks? Maybe just the Encyclopedia Brittanica?

All right, the rule is “no research”, fine. But the jurors will use the knowledge and opinions they carry in, which won’t be much more accurate than what they’d get from the net (if they can’t be skeptical about what they read online then they’ll walk in with their heads full of junk to begin with). If I’m in a jury and the case depends on DNA evidence, and I’m skeptical about DNA evidence, and neither side really addresses the question to my satisfaction (because the prosecution wants DNA evidence to be unquestioned and the defense wants us to think about something else) then I’ll just have to ignore that evidence and acquit. How is that better than letting me read back issues of Nature and Science to get the real dope? (Although come to think of it, neither side would let me on the jury once they found out what I’ve published.)

Alimas (profile) says:

Re: Ignorance is strength?

“(Although come to think of it, neither side would let me on the jury once they found out what I’ve published.)”

Exactly. Jurors are tested by both sides for the knowledge they bring in.
I don’t think jurors should be allowed to search the internet about the case they are on for, I think they risk a higher chance of being contaminated either by unfairly biased opinion presented as fact or by outright lies.
I don’t support active ISP censorship though…sets a bad precedent for the role of an ISP.

Bill says:

The point of the rule

Is to make sure that a jury makes the decision based on the facts presented AS PRESENTED. That is why both sides have lawyers and they agree before (and sometimes during) the trial what the jury will hear to make their decision. A jury is to make its decision only based on the evidence presented. Things like opinions, and gossip are not allowed, not to mention evidence that was obtained illegally.

The internet is a notoriously inaccurate place to get information. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of good hard information on the internet, but there is also a lot of bad information. Using the example above about the distance it takes a car to stop. What the jury will likely hear is information about the car as configured. The tires that were on the car, did the car come from the factory with 4 wheel antilock brakes? What was the total weight of the car? The road conditions at the time of the accident? All of these play a factor in the stopping distance of the vehicle and one or both sides will probably have hired an expert to try to explain it to you. The expert may come up with a stopping distance of 85 feet, due to all of the above conditions. You could look on the internet and see a stopping distance of 65 feet, because the conditions were ideal, the tires new and ‘sticky’ and the tested vehicle had 4 wheel antilock brakes. You might also find some incorrect information that said the stopping distance was about 50 feet, or it would take at least 100 feet to stop.

However the vehicle in the accident had lower grade worn tires and only 2 wheel antilock brakes, and the road was oily from a fuel oil spill 2 days before.

You see the problem here? You are getting information that you may think would be relevant, but it may not be, or there may be a reason they don’t want you to know when making the decision.

A jury is admonished to make a decision based on the facts presented in the case, and not anything else.

Here is a simpler example. You get a speeding ticket and decide to fight it. I am the judge and I saw you drive past me, and I saw you pulled over by the police. As a judge I must find you guilty based on the evidence the policeman gives, and not on the fact that you went flying by me and I then saw you pulled over.

I have served on a jury (it was about 20 years ago), and it is amazing what people came up with even then. There were a couple of us that had to keep reminding the rest of the jury that we had to decide the case based on the information given at the trial and not on what others knew or thought they knew.

It is very tempting to want to learn more, and after the case that I served on was over (it was a criminal case and we found him guilty), we found out that he had previous convictions and we then had to decide if he was a habitual offender. If we had known in advance that he had previous convictions we may have used that instead of information related to the crime he was brought to trial for to convict him.

Our justice system may not be perfect, but it is the best system in the world. There are reasons for the rules, and people need to follow them, lest one day they end up on the other side of the law and are hoping that a jury will be fair during their trial.

Free Capitalist (profile) says:

Re: The point of the rule

Good points, and it reminds us that the Justice system has always known that, in spite of the professed ideals, journalism is *biased opinion.

(Frankly, I think all writing is biased to the author’s intent and limited to information (factual or not) the author *chooses to include in the work. )

Another interesting point about considering only the facts of the case — Judges admonish juries that any statements made by the LAWYERS are opinions and not fact or evidence. The only evidence juries are supposed to consider is the physical evidence, and testimonies (by material witnesses and subject matter experts).

Richard (profile) says:

Re: The point of the rule

However the vehicle in the accident had lower grade worn tires and only 2 wheel antilock brakes, and the road was oily from a fuel oil spill 2 days before.

You see the problem here? You are getting information that you may think would be relevant, but it may not be,

If that is true then it will have been presented in the case, right. In that case a juror who is bright enough to look up the information will no how to use it. The scenario I had in mind was sort of the other way around. The lawyer presents evidence that the stopping distance is 65 ft (say) and the juror checks it up on the manufacturer’s site. The manufacturer’s site says that the distance is 65ft but adds details about how the test was done (new car, dry roads ABS fitted etc). Now the juror knows that the car was the previous model (no ABS) 7 years old (do tires may not be new and that the road was wet and it was October so there were loads of leaves around. Now the juror knows that the lawyers statement is inaccurate.

What you have said boils down to: “the lawyer is smarter than you”. Well in technical matters probably not…

or there may be a reason they don’t want you to know when making the decision.

I found this extremely worrying. How could it possibly be that there is something which is a matter of general fact (pertinant to, but not part of, the case) that you can’t be allowed to know?

What if you happen to already know it before the trial?

Sounds like an RIAA trial to me….

If there eas

Richard (profile) says:

Re: puts more idiots on the jury stand

Yes – well the film “runaway jury” was on TV the other night – it contains the lines:

“Trials are much to important to be left to juries”

The point is that the concept that a jury can only do a proper job by being actually unaware of the evidence that they are supposed to disregard is somewhat patronising – esp coming from lawyers and judges who believe that they are capabale of avoiding bias even when they do know the full facts.

You are also relying on the competency of those lawyers in technical matters (and I’m talking about defence lawyers too here – not just prosecutors). There was a case in the UK a few years ago where ignorance of statistics led to the conviction of a woman for killing her own children. Nobody noticed the statistical fallacy, not the prosecutor, not the expert witnesses not the defence, not the defendant (who was a lawyer herself).

Had the jury contained a professional magician she would have undoubtedly been acquitted – as magicians use these kind of tricks to fool people all the time – but of course your not supposed to judge on anything but the case as presented are you?

Eventually she was freed on appeal – but by that time she was so traumatised that she later committed suicide – the damage had been done.

If I was in the dock I would hope that the jury didn’t just rely on what the lawyers said – but checked the facts themselves – only facts mind not opinions – and there is the difficulty – how do you draw the line?

MCR says:

Re: Re: puts more idiots on the jury stand

I have to agree with you on the reasoning. A simple explanation could be a lawyer’s expert witness telling the courtroom that 2 + 2 = 5, and there’s no objection from the judge or other side. Are you supposed to now take that statement as fact since it’s an expert witness, even if you know (or in some cases, think u know) it’s wrong?

Josh (profile) says:


While I doubt anyone reading is naive enough to believe that the justice system is about find out the truth – isn’t that what it supposed to be about?

Previous comments say there is a large amount of inaccurate, out-of-context and biased information on the net. I don’t dispute that. But in the courts, there is just as much inaccurate, out-of-context and biased information entered in as evidence or given as testimony. I would put forth the idea that it is easier to determine the actual correct information from the net than it is to determine from what a juror is given in court. How a juror determines what evidence is valid in court has always been a factor when given conflicting evidence.

Why are juries told to only consider evidence as presented in court? Because it is assumed that what is presented in court is more reliable than other sources. That may have been true hundreds of years ago (thousands for much of it) when the structure of the courts was formed – but it isn’t any longer.

It is time for the justice system to evolve and be disrupted by emerging technology.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why cant the jury ask questions in court?

Why cant the jury ask a question of fact in court? If the default stoping distance is 65 feet why cant the jury ask, “how was this tested?” Of corse I heard of Jury’s asking for dictonarys only to get the request rejected for bias. So if you know what a word means in your head your ok, but if you use a standard amearican dictonary to tell you what it means your not?

I’m one to think that a good member can get as much technical information as he needs so long as hes not looking up specific information on the case.

Otherwise your using them as lie detectors and we know humans are hit or miss on that one.

Eric the Grey says:

Forced into signing?

Can the jury refuse to sign the paper? If it is to have legal ramifications, then a forced signature would be cause for dismissal of any penalties in question.

Sorry, but I’m not signing anything without the advice of a lawyer, and since I’m not a wealthy person, I don’t have one on retainer, and will have to get one to read this over.

I’m all for serving my time as a juror (have to go in next week as a matter of fact) and won’t try to skip out, but if a Judge tries to force the issue, I’d fight back.


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